October 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

Abercrombie & Fitch concept store Ruehl rolls out e-commerce

The Ruehl.com rollout could signal that the Abercrombie & Fitch concept stores, which specializes in handbags and fragrances, have come of age.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has launched Ruehl.com, an e-commerce site for its concept store, which is based on styles found in New York’s West Greenwich Village. The site features Ruehl handbags, cologne and perfume and offers shoppers a photo gallery of featured products, store locator, and registration for e-mail announcements about new products and music played in its stores.

The e-commerce site will offer men’s and women’s casual apparel, jeans, outerwear and gift cards in spring 2008, the company says.

Ruehl opened its first store in September 2004 and has grown into 19 retail locations across the U.S. The retailer targets the post-collegiate customer between age 22 and 35, with “hip, casual leather goods,” the company says.

Coming three years after the physical store launch sounds about right for the web site’s timing, says Jim Okamura, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group, a retail consulting firm. “You could look at the announcement as a coming of age,” he says. “In a sense it validates that they have confidence in the brand and that Ruehl has grown to a point where brand equity can drive enough traffic to make a meaningful multi-channel strategy work.”

Introducing an e-commerce site was inevitable in order to expand the Ruehl stores` base. “If they have ambitions for being a 200 to 300 store chain, the web is a necessary choice they have to provide customers,” Okamura says.

Giving shoppers a choice of channels is critical for growth, but the web isn’t likely to reach even 10% of Ruehl’s business, he adds, given the parent company’s storefront-based business model.

Abercrombie & Fitch, No. 67 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, reported that second quarter 2007 net sales at Ruehl increased 71% to $11.7 million, while comparable store sales increased 2%.

Other Abercrombie subsidiary e-commerce sites are Abercrombie.com, AbercrombieKids.com and HollisterCo.com.

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